News & Politics

Only the Survivors Can Grasp the Meaning of Columbine

"Some people blamed violent video games, others said we need stricter gun laws, or God in school. But the true meaning of Columbine now lies with the survivors, the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers and cousins of the victims, with the injured students, the terrified ones, the teachers, the cops."
A year has gone by since the killings at Columbine. Two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, fired over 200 rounds that day, killing twelve students and one teacher, wounding 23.Six months later, the mother of a 17 year old girl paralyzed by the shooting walked into a local pawn shop with bullets in her handbag or coat pocket, asked the owner to see a gun and, when he turned away, loaded it and then shot herself in the head. I can't help but think she was shooting at them, the killers who had taken over her life, changed every thought and hour so completely.Like most of us, I don't know anyone personally affected by the school shootings but I read the papers, watch the TV -- even look up the Rocky Mountain News on the Internet.And now I realize that I know an astounding number of details about Columbine, as you probably do -- Dylan Klebold's nickname was "Vodka," one of the murdered teacher's daughters dances in a nightclub in Denver, both killers have 21-year-old brothers, 450 backpacks were left behind in the school cafeteria as students fled that day, every bullet hole in the school was plastered over by construction workers who volunteered their labor, the double doors that led into the old library are currently covered up with rows of lockers and the library itself will eventually be replaced with a glass atrium and a mural showing a grove of trees (sycamores to be precise) and a clearing filled with sunlight.Why did the boys do it? Were they abused by the jocks, pushed and prodded into this act of overblown vengeance? Were they simply hate-filled boys? Boys with access to guns but not enough feeling? Did God work in mysterious ways or was it evil on the loose that day?Some people in the media blamed the violent video games the two boys liked; others defended the games. Some said we need stricter gun laws; some said we need God in school. For awhile there was interest in the anti-depressants Eric was on. We were told Eric was a born leader and Dylan a follower and that, according to the New York Times, young rampage killers rarely act alone.The meaning of Columbine eludes us because it is no longer in the past, in the why of Dylan and Eric -- their motives, their methods, their choice of ammunition -- in the clues the detectives pored over last spring.The meaning of Columbine now lies with the survivors, the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers and cousins of the victims, with the injured students, the terrified ones, the teachers, the cops.They will decide the meaning of Columbine, each of them, in their own way and over and over again throughout their lives. It's unfair but it's also just -- unfair that they should be tied so completely to the killers and the killings but just that they should be the ones who finally find the meaning, tell the story, of that day.So many of the survivors say, I'm not leaving Columbine. This is my home. I'm not leaving town and moving somewhere else --where would I go? Who would understand what it's like, who but the people who have gone through this horror with me?Violence is a language and Eric and Dylan spoke with 200 rounds of ammunition which is one way to make sure that you and only you are heard. Such a blunt crude language and yet we still don't know what they were trying to say.At the end of March, four Columbine students gave a poetry reading about the shooting. One girl wrote directly to one of the killers, "I cannot justify/I cannot explain/I do not want it to be you/all I can do is remember/and cry--why?/I want to tell you/that I love you/and wish that it wasn't you..."A wire service story says that the 13-year-old brother of one of the victims insists on attending Columbine next year. He wants to go to the school where his brother died. Out of loyalty? A desire to be close to him?As he follows in his brother's footsteps, I can't help but imagine him walking in complete silence, ears cocked, eyes peeled. He reminds me of someone driven (by dread, by love) to walk a difficult path, someone who must look, who must know, someone driven toward revelation.